December 7, 2021

When indoor dining was shut down not once, but twice in 2020, we had a lot of time to reflect on what we loved and missed about restaurants. Our list was long. Even when they couldn’t welcome us into dining rooms, restaurant owners and hospitality workers stepped up to do what they do best: provide respite from the often challenging world in which we find ourselves, offering a transportive bite, a smile (even if it was hidden behind a mask) and a reminder that a love of good food is something we can all share.

Through 2021, restaurants have continued to adapt to changing rules and conditions. While some closed for good, others learned new tricks, and still more eateries joined the scene. (To be eligible for Eat Here, a restaurant must have opened by Labor Day 2021.) Over the past year, tables both inside and out on those adapted patios have buzzed with conversation, a reminder that sharing a meal at an old favorite or trying a new spot is about much more than just what’s on the menu. It’s about connection, comfort and community, and that’s exactly what you’ll find at these 100 metro Denver restaurants that we can’t live without. — Molly Martin

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Ace Eat Serve

Ace Eat Serve
Courtesy Ace Eat Serve
Ace owners Josh and Jen Wolkon, who also run Steuben’s, had a fast hit on their hands when they opened their ping-pong hall and pan-Asian eatery in 2012. The menu at Ace Eat Serve has just gotten better over the years, especially since chef Thach Tran joined the team, adding a Peking duck special, hearty noodle soups and new flavors from Vietnam, Thailand and China. ($$)
501 E. 17th Ave., Denver, 80203

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

African Grill and Bar

African Grill and Bar
Mark Antonation
Sylvester and Theodora Osei-Fordwuo launched their second eatery at the beginning of 2019, after the success of their Green Valley Ranch location, bringing their unique, delicious cooking to Lakewood. Though the original location is now closed, African Grill and Bar is still going strong, with bold spices flavoring uncommon dishes representing Ghana, Nigeria and other African nations, as well as warm service from the owners and their family. ($$)
955 S. Kipling Parkway, Lakewood, 80226

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

American Elm

American Elm
Courtesy of American Elm/Lucy Beaugard
American Elm opened in 2019 with a seasoned pro calling the shots. Taking inspiration from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where owner Bob Reiter previously lived, the restaurant is a neighborhood bistro with an elevated approach that makes it worth a trip to Highland, if that doesn’t happen to be your neighborhood. And the bar offerings are among the best in town. ($$$)
4132 W. 38th Ave., Denver, 80212

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Angelo's Taverna

Angelo's Taverna
Courtesy Angelo's Taverna Facebook page
Angelo's Taverna bills itself as Denver's original pizza and oyster bar — and given that it's been serving central Denver since the Nixon administration, it's safe to say that it's the longest-running restaurant of its ilk, even though it’s now on its second owners (who opened a second outpost in Littleton). Even if you’re a half-shell lover, Angelo’s makes a compelling argument for a char-grilled preparation, with oysters dressed up with garlic butter, bacon and Gorgonzola or chipotle bourbon butter. Belly up to the bar during happy hour for $1 house oysters of the day. ($$)
620 E. 6th Ave., Denver, 80203

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Annette

Annette
Danielle Lirette
Located in Stanley Marketplace, Annette is a beautiful restaurant flooded with light and dotted with natural elements that make the room feel sophisticated, not stark. Chef/owner Caroline Glover cooks seasonal ingredients over a wood-fired grill with equal parts reverence and panache, turning out dishes that read as home cooking, even when venturing into such chef-driven ingredients as beef tongue, octopus and heirloom vegetables. ($$$)
2501 Dallas St., Aurora, 80010

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Annie's Cafe & Bar

Annie's Cafe & Bar
Molly Martin
At first glance, Annie's Cafe may seem like just one more cutesy diner packed with vintage kitsch, but this east Denver joint rises above the rest. That's because the history here isn't manufactured through fake ’50s decor and faded film posters: It's real. Annie's has been serving such down-home fare as extra-large omelets, juicy burgers and peanut butter shakes since 1981, and when it moved from its original drugstore digs at Eighth and Colorado to this larger location (the former home of Goodfriends), it lost none of its charm. ($$)
3100 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 80206

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Bar Dough

Bar Dough
Kayla Jones
Open since 2015, Bar Dough already feels like a longtime staple in LoHi, where the Italian eatery serves up pasta, pizza, small plates and a top-notch happy hour. The kitchen is led by chef Russel Stippich, who spent time at Frasca, Acorn and the Populist before joining the Culinary Creative restaurant group and landing at Bar Dough. Don’t skip the imported burrata, which is served with some of the best housemade bread in town. ($$$)
2227 W. 32nd Ave., Denver, 80211

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Barolo Grill

Barolo Grill
Mark Antonation
Longtime general manager Ryan Fletter purchased Barolo Grill from his former boss, Blair Taylor, who’d founded the Italian eatery in 1992. Since taking over in 2015, Fletter has modernized the service and the menu, designed by chef Darrel Truett, and built a formidable wine cellar while maintaining a touch of the classics. As a result, today Barolo Grill is informed by its past without being weighed down by it, and adapted quickly to the realities of service during the pandemic. ($$$)
3030 E. 6th Ave., Denver, 80206

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Bastien's Restaurant

Bastien's Restaurant
Mark Antonation
There may not be another restaurant in Denver that’s used its history to such great advantage, keeping everything noteworthy from the past — from the mid-century aesthetic to the steakhouse presentations — while meeting the expectations of modern diners. The family-run business dates back to the 1930s, but the current incarnation was constructed in 1958, in distinct Googie style, from the roofline to the neon sign. A sugar steak — served no more than medium-rare — gives a taste of Colfax Avenue’s swingin’, stylish earlier days. ($$$)
3503 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 80206

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Beckon

Beckon
Danielle Lirette
Beckon’s chef’s-counter dining room feels like a dinner party thrown by a close friend — if that friend happened to be the best cook you know. But even at the outdoor seating under the covered patio, the Beckon experience is unique, thanks to thoughtful executive chef Duncan Holmes and the entire Beckon team, which exudes hospitality. The pre-paid tasting menu changes quarterly, and the whole experience lasts about two and a half hours. ($$$)
2843 Larimer St., Denver, 80205

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Bellota

Bellota
Molly Martin
Restaurateur Bryan Dayton closed Acorn at the Source in the summer of 2020, but quickly reopened as Bellota, Spanish for "acorn." The space is still hip and airy, with a menu of Mexican cuisine overseen by executive chef Manny Barella, who hails from Monterrey, Mexico, and worked in fine-dining restaurants in California as well as Frasca in Boulder and Uchi in Denver before bringing a taste of his hometown to Bellota. ($)
3350 Brighton Blvd., Denver, 80216

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs

Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs
Molly Martin
How does a humble hot-dog cart rise to the status of one of Denver’s top dogs in the restaurant business? Chalk it up to the creative and obsessive mind of Jim Pittenger, who started out with Coca-Cola-braised onions and cream cheese shot out of a caulking gun as a topping combo that elevated his wieners above the competition. Wild-game and specialty sausages have drawn food celebrities including Anthony Bourdain, Ludo Lefebvre and Andrew Zimmern, as well as long lines of tube-steak tourists and frankfurter fanatics. ($)
2148 Larimer St., Denver, 80205

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

The Bindery

The Bindery
Danielle Lirette
Linda Hampsten Fox, the Bindery’s chef/owner, lived and worked in Italy for decades, and the elegant dinner menu of the restaurant she opened in 2017 reflects her intimate knowledge of that country. But the culinary roster ranges farther, with Mexican and New American influences that reflect experiences throughout Hampsten Fox’s nearly thirty-year career, as well as her penchant for unusual proteins and brash flavor combinations. ($$$)
1817 Central St., Denver, 80211

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Bittersweet

Bittersweet
Mark Manger
In a neighborhood better known for convenience stores and takeout Chinese, Greek and Thai, chef Olav Peterson and his wife, Melissa Severson, have carved out a reputation for avant-garde cuisine with an eye toward seasonality. Since it opened in 2011, Bittersweet has never been pretentious or unapproachable; instead, its offerings delight with discovery while remaining grounded in familiar flavors. ($$$)
500 E. Alameda Ave., Denver, 80209

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Blackbelly

Blackbelly
Danielle Lirette
Chef Hosea Rosenberg turned his 2009 victory on Bravo’s Top Chef into a culinary business that started with a food truck and catering company, then opened Blackbelly in 2014. The butcher-driven eatery encompasses all of the chef’s passions: charcuterie, top cuts from locally raised animals, and Southwestern flavors from his childhood in New Mexico. Blackbelly’s next-door butcher shop provides an endless supply of cured meats and fresh cuts for the restaurant as well as your home kitchen. ($$$)
1606 Conestoga St., Boulder, 80301

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Blazing Chicken Shack II

Blazing Chicken Shack II
Molly Martin
This soul-food spot is a hidden gem tucked a block off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The outside may not look particularly welcoming, with its caged-in windows and barred door, but you’ll find a comforting vibe inside, along with a menu full of homestyle Southern classics, including fried chicken and gumbo, and sides like mac and cheese and collard greens studded with shredded ham hock and bolstered with cabbage. ($)
5560 E. 33rd Ave., Denver, 80207

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Blue Ocean Asian Cuisine (Little Chengdu)

Blue Ocean Asian Cuisine (Little Chengdu)
Molly Martin
This sparsely decorated Denver Tech Center strip-mall spot, which still bears the "Blue Ocean" sign and online presence of its predecessor, offers an array of traditional Chinese dishes found on a lengthy Chinese menu that’s MIA online. The main draw: noodles made by the owner at a small station outside the kitchen entryway, where he pulls them with mesmerizing efficiency. He works solo, running both the front- and back-of-house operations, so plan on taking your time when you visit. ($$)
8101 E. Belleview Ave., Denver, 80237